Surprises in the Superhero Realm

In recent years, comic book movie franchises have hired directors outside of the superhero and science fiction genres to direct some of their major works. Rebecca Holland takes a look at this new trend.

Surprises in the Superhero Realm
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022)

by Rebecca Holland

When I think of big superhero movies, directors like Joss Whedon (The Avengers), Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight) and James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy) spring to mind. They’re recognisable names, not only for their work on these particular movies, but also because their names have become almost synonymous with the big budget superhero flicks.

Unlike relative newcomers to the superhero movie scene, like Cathy Yan (Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) and Anna Boden (Captain Marvel), who are still acquiring their superhero directing credit stripes, when I say the Russo Brothers, it’s likely that you think of one of the big movies like The Avengers: Infinity War or The Avengers: Endgame.

Apart from these veterans and newcomers, there are some directors of superhero movies who make us (or me at least) scratch my head in confusion. Directors that make me think “they directed what?”

Take Sam Raimi for example. Anyone versed with the horror genre can point to Raimi as an influential horror filmmaker, his filmography including movies such as Drag Me To Hell and The Evil Dead franchise. Although he had previously directed three Spiderman movies, I wasn’t the only one surprised to see that Raimi was directing Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness. It seemed like a far cry from his previous portfolio of work.

Yet, he followed in the footsteps of another horror director who directed the first Doctor Strange movie, Scott Derrickson. Previously, Derrickson had directed movies like The Exorcism of Emily Rose and Deliver Us From Evil before he worked on Doctor Strange. Although penned to direct the sequel, he left over “creative differences”, an ambiguous Hollywood phrase that could mean literally anything, and was replaced by Raimi.

These two are seemingly unusual directorial choices. Marvel isn’t a horror house after all.

But on closer inspection, the Doctor Strange franchise isn’t the first time Marvel has brought in directors well-versed in a genre well outside the superhero multiverse. Taika Waititi and Peyton Reed, who directed Thor: Ragnarok and Ant Man respectively, were brought in to shake up the franchise, with each adding their unique humour and vision to their movies. Both movies were lauded as successes, and similarly, Derrickson and Raimi have taken Doctor Strange to places that have surprised and shocked audiences.

It brings to mind the fact that Kenneth Branagh, the director known for Shakespearean movies like Hamlet, was brought in to direct Thor. It seemed like a combination that shouldn’t have worked, but Branagh brought those Shakespearean elements into Thor’s character, and has arguably elevated the character to a place beyond a one-dimensional all powerful demi-god.

It seems that what this superhero franchise needs most of all… is blood outside the superhero realm. Directors versed in horror, comedy and Shakespeare, to bring new ideas and blend elements across genres to create stories that don’t just feature a one-dimensional hero. Marvel’s director choices show a shift in direction that is ultimately more surprising than the individual directors. Perhaps, after all, the right question isn’t “they directed what?”, but rather “who hired them to direct that?”


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